You read correctly, and no, I am not exaggerating, even a little.
There has been mounting evidence in the past 20 years that physical inactivity in general, and sitting in particular, are as, if not more, detrimental to your individual and our collective health as smoking cigarettes.
Check out this article, written 10 YEARS AGO in the Journal of Applied Physiology: http://jap.physiology.org/cgi/content/abstract/88/2/774.
This fascinating review really turns the way we have been looking at ourselves and our relationship to exercise on its head- and I believe the new perspective is exactly correct. We often talk about studying exercise and activity as the “intervention” and being sedentary as the “control”. Yet, with a moment’s thought, one realizes that being active is NORMAL and being inactive is ABNORMAL! We should be studying the effects of inactivity, with active subjects as the control, not the other way around.
Consider the author’s central premise: that the human genome has evolved over the past 40,000 in an environment demanding a high degree of physical activity. Over the past 100 years, the amount of physical activity the vast majority of us engage in has plummeted. In that time, rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity have increased at incredible rates. Now, interestingly, the authors point out that 100% of those increases must be due to changing environments interacting with our genes, because 0% of our genome has changed during that time. Interesting thought to chew on.
Some staggering stats: there has been a 29 fold increase in heart disease deaths from 1900 to 1996. That is amazing, and not in a good way. With all of the staggering advances in technology, medicine, sanitation, improvements in home environment, and deaths from heart disease went UP 29 fold.
In the period of 1988-1994 63% of adult men and 55% of adult women were classified as overweight or obese. In that same time period, 11% of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. Those percentages go up every year.
OK, this is stuff many of us have heard before. Why am I picking on sitting? Check out this article from Science: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/307/5709/584.
This one was pretty cool. Authors studied 20 volunteers, self described as “couch potatoes.” 10 were lean, 10 were mildly obese. The investigators hooked them up to a complex motion sensor that tracked their motions and postures every second for 10 days.
The results: the obese group sat for about 2.5 hours longer per day than the lean group. Sleeping times were nearly identical.
When we sit, our muscles become less sensitive to insulin in a number of hours. Our metabolic rate goes down. (The authors in the Science article calculated that the obese group would burn an additional 350 calories a day simply by not sitting for the extra 2.5 hours!) Our abdominal muscles shut down and become inhibited. We stop burning fat and start storing it away like a mad hoarder.
We all know exercise is good- what we don’t seem to know is how bad simply sitting for long periods of time actually are! So, if you hate exercise, that’s OK. Lets take baby steps and simply GET UP!
Really. Take phone calls in your office standing instead of sitting. Read articles, or the paper on your feet. If there is anything you can do standing instead of sitting, do. It’s what we were built for.
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